Dear reader, I had said I’d publish this short story in ONE GO, but it ran away with me, growing into a longish short story – too long for one sitting! So, I’m breaking it up into
3 or 4 as-many-as-it-takes parts, to be published every Sunday (the usual day when I posted The Hotel Unicus series). I’ll be rating it 16+ due to the mature themes, but as is my way there is more mystery in the absence of gory details, which terrify me. Horror/mystery/pretanatural. I hope you like it.
Have you missed Part Thirteen?
Just to re-cap…..
My own grandmother had sold me to the devil. I thought of the twin girls I’d given birth to and given up for adoption when I was sixteen. They were safe. However, if there would be a 2nd daughter of my 2nd daughter, she too would be taken. And, of course, the curse would be handed down to her 2nd granddaughter if there was to be one.
I asked Lilly to drive me to my most favourite place to die.
Hilltop Wood – an ancient wood of oaks, beeches, birches and sycamores, located on a tall grassy slope – overlooked the city.
~ Part Fourteen
As I drifted onward, I still saw the remnants of the wondrous sunset, I held onto them for comfort because I was deeply afraid of where I was going. Lilly’s words repeated themselves,
“You know Fran, Gran didn’t mean to… She was tricked.”
“You know Fran, Gran didn’t mean to… She was tricked.”
“You know Fran, Gran didn’t mean to… She was tricked.”
I knew. I knew that was true from what Gran had said. She had already consented to the Red Shoes Twins’ bargain terms before she’d heard them. And, had agreed to them post departure. While in the state of dying from this world.
I inwardly bitterly laughed. If that meant the terms of agreement were then made void, why was I dying?
The wondrous, beautiful sunset rippled. The burning blood-red sun sent out a flash of white brilliance. The last view I’d had from being seated in the Victorian pavilion on the hill above the city with the mesmerising sunset before me, returned.
Will stood before me, on the grassy slope overlooking the city, at the edge of the pavilion. I could see him clearly; he was smiling at me and I realised, to my surprise and relief, that he looked entirely human. Dressed in his Catholic priest’s attire, as if about to address his congregation. Not only human about his kind eyes. The gaping wound in his forehead from the stiletto heel of the demon shoes no longer there. He was whole again like before Hell had burnt him. I felt a gathering excitement, then heard the convoluted hushed voices that weren’t making sense.
Then, one sentence made itself discernible: “She broke their curses – saw through their lies.”
Yes. Yes, I had; it was true. I’d seen their deception. But what was happening now?
My body was pain-free, weightless, as if I was connected to it by a thread. There was a pressing question: Did I want to continue living in this earthly material world? The answer was easy: Yes, I did. Even though I ached for my own children every day, I did.
I had the pleasant sensation of slipping into a warm and much loved coat on a cold day. I blinked and could see them all. They stood either side of Will and I’ve never seen such a joyful group of people before – or since – with their relaxed body postures and smiling, glowing faces. A few were vaguely familiar from the accounts in Will’s files. One, other than Will, I certainly recognised from long ago photographs: Isabelle Andersen. Still young, wearing the same clothes and looking the same, as if she’d just stepped out of the photo. Just no longer in shades of black and white.
“Thank you Fran.” She said.
Happy tears were streaming down my face, I felt them on my cheeks, saw one drip onto my clasped hands pressed against my chin.
I felt unburdened for the first time in weeks, I looked at the Red Shoes and – not surprisingly – found them gone.
I turned to share my exuberance with Lilly who had been sitting beside me on the wooden seat. But she was partially concealed behind wisps of white mist, oblivious to my current state. Somehow I knew this was for her own sake, this was the way things worked; we were inhabiting the same world but existing on different planes. Her grieving sobs pained me. I hoped I really was returning to my old life – it seemed I would be.
The people before me – twenty or so – were vying for my attention, to voice their thanks to me for releasing them. They were thanking me in their native languages and some in strange words of unknown countries to me. However, most of them were Italians and I wondered about their stories and the origin of the Red Shoes.
The shoes were, after all, according to the stamp on their soles, made in Italy. A hot place but not as hot as Hell. Though, without a doubt, the demons residing in them were made in The Really Hot Place – stamped on their backsides or otherwise.
“See you in church!” Will said above the din.
I found my voice: “I would like that!” I answered back.
Then the people melted away into the dwindling colours of the sunset. But, I wasn’t alone because I could see Lilly as clear as day. I took hold of her hand and gently squeezed.
I attended a service of Will’s. I brought my family and friends too. Fatima, brought up in the Muslim faith and a relapsing atheist before the incident of the Red Shoes, thoroughly enjoyed the ornate, mysterious Catholic ambience. Gran, a regular of the local Methodist church and best friends with its reverend, grumbled about Mary being revered because the mother of Christ wasn’t God. Mum, with an embarrassed red face, tried to quieten her. Brian, who hadn’t ever given religion much thought, hung on every word of Father Will Mulford’s sermon. In a nearby row sat the androgynous woman with the short blonde hair and purple coat, who’d I’d not long ago exchanged words with in the park. She no longer looked dishevelled and dirty, her clothes were casual but clean. Dougi Woods and his daughter, Nadine Briggs, sat next to one another in the row before us. He wore a pink shirt and dark brown trousers; she, a yellow tea dress covered in a print of tiny birds and a big cream flower in her black curly hair. In another row sat an elderly woman beside the elegant Joy Lapierre, she appeared older than her companion. I eventually realised she was Isabelle – Joy’s older sister. For a moment I thought it cruel to bring back a young woman in an old woman’s body, but I then supposed it had to be so because otherwise it wouldn’t have made sense in this world. It would have been jarring to have two sisters with half a century between them. At least, I concluded, the sisters would have a little time to reconnect.
When I returned to my body and returned to my life everything had changed. People I knew were different, I knew I was different. Some things were different in subtle ways, such as the neighbour across the road being a dog lover instead of a cat lady; the sign over the men’s barbers, down the road, being written in a another font and bearing another name for an altogether different kind of shop; and, Alfred was more sprightly because of a changed diet – “The wonder of dandelions!” Gran proudly declared. And, some situations were hugely different: there was another prime minister, of English, Scottish and Italian heritage, but equally disliked as the previous one; and I was passionate about going back to school to train as a psychologist because I really wanted to help others. Good, bad, indifferent, many things were something else now. When I eventually got round to speaking with everyone I knew who had been effected by the Red Shoes, they were still aware of what had passed and noticed the changes around them. But they didn’t note the subtle changes in themselves.
There was a moment when Will and I were alone, standing outside the church door, watching the others leave down the path while some talked to one another in small groups, dotted about the grass.
“Your dreams were real, Fran.” He said.
“I wasn’t sure about that.” I replied. “Whether they were figments of my imagination or some kind of horrid reality. Whether what you and Isabelle said were words of advice…”
“What I said to you… It helped, didn’t it?” He said.
“About how to set myself free, regardless of the Shoes?” I asked and he nodded. I continued: “About being brave and finding truths buried deep within me. Yes, I did, I managed to; and I truly thank you for your help. What happened to the boy I loved and the guilt I carried about giving up my babies. That was too difficult to live with, I had to bury that in order to just go on, day by day. I wasn’t able to face those truths. It was like nearing an enormous blazing fire in which, inside its centre, lay the intense pain caused by those memories and guilt. The nearer to the fire I tried, the more burnt I became. I wasn’t able to reach its centre so I gave up. I was almost successful in erasing them from my memory but it didn’t do me any favours.”
We looked over at Lilly who was chatting away to the woman in the purple coat. I noticed she was flirting by her laughter and smiles. Not once did the glasses slip down her retroussé nose. A girl, eight or nine years of age, with long pale blonde plaits down her back, went up to the woman and gently pulled on her purple coat, vying for her attention. The woman was fixed on whatever Lilly was saying, but she then turned to the child and, judging by her smile, said something nice. The girl called out: “Saffron! Aunty Rosemary says to come and ask her yourself!”
“Saffron and Sage. Their parents bring them to my church every Sunday. Lovely, happy girls, as beautiful as their mother.” Will said.
I looked round for a fair haired woman but saw none. Instead, by the gate, stood a middle-aged, dark haired couple with the other girl beside them. She looked the same as the other apart from her dress being green instead of blue, and the ribbons in her plaited hair being green instead of blue. A peal of laughter followed her as she ran up to join her twin.
“You can throw that guilt on the fire. There’s nothing to be guilty about.” Will said.
The Red Shoes Twins were restless, desperate, and because of certain recent changes, in foul moods. They’d hunted in all directions. Either the souls were not desirous and desirable or they rejected their overtures. Humans could be soul destroying! Some days later they found a wanton and vulnerable soul and a new love affair began.
Fatima later said the finicky Star Hotel Manager, Nigel Pemble, had been fired for wearing stilettos at work.
* The End *
.:::::::::: Did you like it? I hope so. If you haven’t already, it’s best to read the parts in the correct sequence. That way you won’t have missed anything. ::::::::::
…………to be continued!
Did you enjoy this story?
If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Inspired by: My own red Italian shoes (in another life when my life was more high heels than wheels).
The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen
The Red Shoes, the film, 1948
Copyright Faith McCord 2018
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide rights.